Meramec Vineyards Chambourcin Dinner

MV Chambo diners.jpg

Meramec Vineyards Chambourcin Dinner

I have been taking retirement lessons courtesy of my bee buddy David Draker, who has made it clear I don’t quite have the hang of sitting around not doing anything. My “lessons” include joining him, his wife Gina and his wife’s best friend Ginger Schneider at Meramec Vineyards monthly wine pairing dinners, a delicious and informative evening of tasting local wines and getting ideas of how to serve them with a variety of dishes.

It was a cold, rainy, overcast day for this particular November 1, 2018 wine-pairing dinner, the last one for this year. This was Ginger’s special evening since she won the drawing for a free dinner at the previous wine pairing. I also felt like I was a winner since this menu included, to my delight, a marvelous discovery; this dark chocolate cheesecake. Who said I can’t start discussing a dinner with dessert first?

 Dark chocolate cheesecake with walnut crust topped with cherry Chambourcin reduction. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Dark chocolate cheesecake with walnut crust topped with cherry Chambourcin reduction. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

When I was working full time and traveling a lot, I made it a mission to try to find the best cheesecake wherever I was working. I had tried a chocolate cheesecake somewhere, decided it was not tasty and returned to sampling over flavors until tonight.

This dark chocolate cheesecake made by Meramec Vineyards Owner Michelle Boulware was a scrumptious surprise in every bite, the savory dark chocolate paired with the Chambourcin sweet cherry reduction sauce a perfect balance. I splurged and added a cup of coffee, which contrasted nicely against the Chambourcin cherry topping reduction. I can’t say this is why we ended up being the last people to leave the winery - again - but it certainly was a factor in why I was lingering. I was thinking how was I going to pursue finding other dark chocolate cheesecakes since I don’t travel as much when it struck me I don’t have to go far at all to revisit this one!

Ok so the dinner wasn’t about desert but it certainly was a highlight. Every course had Chambourcin in the dish so a word about this intriguing wine. According to the Meramec Vineyards website, the Chambroucin is a “medium body red wine featuring the complex Chambourcin grape. Cherry notes and smooth, peppery finish. Great with substantial beef dinners or enjoyed by a fire with a cigar for an after dinner wine.”

Our assessment during the dinner was the Chambourcin was rich and complex with “a touch of spice,” Gina said, a very interesting wine to pair with the other winter meal dishes.

 The menu for the Meramec Vineyards Chambourcin Nov. 1, 2018 wine pairing dinner. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The menu for the Meramec Vineyards Chambourcin Nov. 1, 2018 wine pairing dinner. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The staff do a very nice job of setting the tone for these special evenings. Instead of sitting at tables set up in a U-shape, this November 1, 2018 the tables were separated into small separate seatings, which was a nice intimate setting, easier to have conversation. A chef friend of mine from the East Coast used to say half of any meal is the visual, from the meal surroundings to how it is plated.

I love peeking through the glass doors as we arrive to see how the room is set up for the special evening.

 David kept checking the little pumpkins to make sure they were real they were so cute. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

David kept checking the little pumpkins to make sure they were real they were so cute. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The evening meal started out with a very interesting dish featuring a cheese I am not particularly fond of using - again another charming discovery. The baked Brie with a strawberry reduction, walnuts and figs was a surprising complex combination topped on the toasted bread.

I would have been happy to have just this dish as my meal!

 Baked Brie with strawberries, walnuts and figs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Baked Brie with strawberries, walnuts and figs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The baked Brie was followed by a creamed mushroom soup that was thick with cooked mushroom pieces. I have yet to meet a fungus I didn’t find tasty so the generous number of mushrooms ensured several in every bite.

 Take my word for it, the creamed mushroom soup was delicious! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Take my word for it, the creamed mushroom soup was delicious! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

What do we do in between courses? Usually we talk but this evening we had the added entertainment of having “Girl Scout” Ginger teach us how to tie the knot used to tie up the evening napkins.

Wait. It was more like she figured it out then tried to teach the rest of us. I never did get the hang of it but David came close. Gina was smart to not even try and calmly sipped her wine as the rest of us made a mess of the pieces of string, and our own fingers!

 Learning how tie the napkin knot for this evening’s meal. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Learning how tie the napkin knot for this evening’s meal. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The main course was Chambourcin braised short ribs with creamy garlic mashed potatoes and a homemade roll with olive pieces that commanded my full attention. I took a photo of the dish but it was not in focus.

I did catch a followup photo of the creamed mushroom soup as the staff was sitting down to their meal.

 Creamed mushroom soup with a generous supply of mushroom pieces. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Creamed mushroom soup with a generous supply of mushroom pieces. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These dinners include live music by William Owen on the keyboard. This particular evening some at our table were singing along, stopping only long enough to check their phones for some trivia, such as who was the first artist to sing “King of the Road.” Mr. Owen has been the live music at most of the monthly dinners we attended earlier this year and he has a wide ranging repertoire. He also takes requests. Luckily for everyone there I was not in the mood to sing or I would easily have cleared out the place, I am well-known within my family for being basically tone deaf but it doesn’t stop me from singing. My niece makes up for it, she’s been in Honors Choir and now is part of a Washington University a cappella group, the first sophomore to make the try outs. Yes, she more than makes up for her tone deaf aunt.

And since I mentioned the Meramec Vineyards staff, they are a welcoming and fun group who make these evenings extra special. As new owners of the winery, Michelle and Joseph Boulware have introduced a variety of menus and outside weekly live music events during summer. They are also planning seasonal events for the holidays. Follow their adventures on their “#grapelife Behind the Vine” blog and Facebook page.

 Standing, right, Joseph Boulware; center, in purple, William Owen on the keyboard. Third from left, Michelle Boulware. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Standing, right, Joseph Boulware; center, in purple, William Owen on the keyboard. Third from left, Michelle Boulware. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Meramec Vineyards will be taking a break from offering these special $40 per person monthly wine pairing dinners through the holidays but they will be back January 17, 2019 with a Norton wine pairing dinner. I suggest you make reservations, these dinners are an excellent value and were almost sold out most of the nights we attended.

 Local wines, beers, daily menus, live music. Great place! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Local wines, beers, daily menus, live music. Great place! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

In the meantime, they have a Bistro daily lunch menu I plan to carefully study, daily soups and sangrias, beer and a number of special upcoming events. Who is with me on the December 13 Ugly Christmas Sweater contest??

Charlotte

Prego, A Taste of Italy!

 A delicious celebrating the contributions of Silvio! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A delicious celebrating the contributions of Silvio! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Prego, A Taste of Italy!

This was a night in Italy without taking a plane or having to go very far at all courtesy of Meramec Vineyards monthly wine pairing dinners in St. James, Mo. The October 11, 2018 wine-pairing meal was in honor of “Silvio,” a renown immigrant Meramec Vineyards worker for whom the starring bespoke wine was named.

 What do you suppose Silvio named his vines? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

What do you suppose Silvio named his vines? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Since this is a wine named after Silvio, we looked up the details on Silvio’s Red. According to Meramec Vineyards website, Silvio’s Red is an “authentic Italian red blended wine. Fruity with vinaigrette finish. Served room temperature or chilled. Pairs well with pasta or in red sauce to deepen the flavor.”

We had a chance to taste the wine during the dinner both at room temperature and chilled. I enjoyed Silvio’s Red both ways with a slight preference for chilled.

Good to their own description, this taste of Italy kicked off the night with homemade meatballs with Silvio’s Red in the delicious red sauce. The meatballs from Wildcat Creek Meats where a meal all in themselves!

 Homemade meat balls in Silvio’s Red wine sauce from Wildcat Creek meats. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Homemade meat balls in Silvio’s Red wine sauce from Wildcat Creek meats. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The appetizer was followed by a delicious antipasto salad made with a light spicy vinaigrette that included - you guessed it, Silvio’s Red wine!

I confess, I added a little more of the vinaigrette to get the full flavor of both the dressing and the salad!

 Silvio’s Red wine was also featured in the light salad dressing. (Photo by David Draker)

Silvio’s Red wine was also featured in the light salad dressing. (Photo by David Draker)

I usually am the one taking the photos at these dinners but this particular evening I forgot my cell phone and had to borrow my beekeeping buddy David’s phone. Since we were coordinating the meal photos, David did a good job of making sure a photo was taken of every course before I tried it.

The main course featured braised Italian sausages with peppers and onions served with a crispy polenta cake. Polenta is a dish made out of a variety of ingredients, primarily traditionally coarsely-ground corn meal.

And a particular mention of that homemade roll with olive pieces - nice savory touch!

 A roll, braised Italian sausage with peppers and onions, and polenta. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A roll, braised Italian sausage with peppers and onions, and polenta. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Desert was courtesy of Heavenly Divine Cupcakes, an enticing cream-filled, chocolate dipped cannoli that begged the question. Does one eat it with a fork or with one’s fingers?

 Cannoli desert made by Heavenly Divine Cupcakes, Rolla. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cannoli desert made by Heavenly Divine Cupcakes, Rolla. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Having spent several weeks in northern Italy a couple of years ago, I remembered how Italians ate their cannoli and I did the same.

 The trick to eating a cannoli is trying to keep the cream in the middle, (Photo by David Draker)

The trick to eating a cannoli is trying to keep the cream in the middle, (Photo by David Draker)

The last treat of the evening, the drawing for a free meal for the next Meramec Vineyards wine-pairing dinner. And the winner was one of the members in our dinner party, Ginger Schneider!

 Ginger Schneider after hearing she has won a free meal at the next wine pairing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Ginger Schneider after hearing she has won a free meal at the next wine pairing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

It was a nice evening with a European flair. We left a couple more empty wine bottles for their next creative table decor.

 A few more bottles of wine now available for table decor. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A few more bottles of wine now available for table decor. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The next and last wine pairing dinner for 2018 was November 1 featuring Meramec Vineyards Chambourcin. No need to wait for the next wine-pairing dinner, Meramec Vineyards offers daily specials and family friendly Sunday brunches, no frequent flyer miles required!

Charlotte

A Taste of Chardonel, Anyone?

 Guests September 20, 2018 were greeted with these lovely table scapes of apples and candles.

Guests September 20, 2018 were greeted with these lovely table scapes of apples and candles.

A Taste of Chardonel, Anyone?

A friend has decided I need lessons in retirement. One of our favorite evening past times is to go to Meramec Vineyard’s monthly pairing dinner where they demonstrate what to cook with one of their wines. Taking my assignment seriously, I take photos of the various courses and lovely table scapes and make sure leftovers make it home for later taste testing. (Well, someone has to do it!)

This particular evening it was all about apples and pears, the two fruits that provide Meramec Vineyard’s Chardonel its special notes. I prefer my wines on the red and dry side but the two bottles I took home argued that maybe I had quickly developed a fondness for this lovely white.

And with good reason, Chardonel is a “medium bodied, dry white wine with apple and pear aromas.”

 Meramec Vineyards Chardonel is a delightful refreshing match to pork medallions.

Meramec Vineyards Chardonel is a delightful refreshing match to pork medallions.

As we have become to expect, Michelle Boulware, one of the “new” owners, went out of her way to set the stage for the pairing dinner with lovely table scapes. This evening, pieces of hand cut wood served as trays for a pile of candles and apples of all sizes, including charming 1-inch ones that came from Michelle’s back yard. She warned us not to eat them, they were bitter. We took a closer look, passed on taking a bite and all agreed those tiny apples were till very cute!

The evening kicked off with a french onion soup that reminded me of Famous Barr in St. Louis, which used to have a restaurant with a great french onion soup. Anybody remember that soup? How about the store. We used to make a day of it to shop, having lunch, then make a leisurely trip home. I’m starting to sound like my mother.

 Meramec Vineyards french onion soup kicked off their apple-themed dinner.

Meramec Vineyards french onion soup kicked off their apple-themed dinner.

After french onion soup, Meramec Vineyards offered lovely salad with fresh greens and apple and pear pieces. I though the colors really made the salad come alive!

The homemade salad dressing was made with - you guessed it, the Chardonel.

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 Those table scape apples almost don’t look real, do they. It’s the candlelight!

Those table scape apples almost don’t look real, do they. It’s the candlelight!

The main course was pork medallions on pasta, a nice combination with an apple-based dry wine.

 Pork medallions in pasta was a great main course with the white wine with fruity undertones.

Pork medallions in pasta was a great main course with the white wine with fruity undertones.

 Dessert. An apple crisp topped with ice cream, perfect ending to a trip through apple land.

Dessert. An apple crisp topped with ice cream, perfect ending to a trip through apple land.

Michelle kept mentioning the table decor one of her assistants had put together but I didn’t get to see it until we were leaving. This could be a spot in my garden, I am always knocking a bucket with flowers over as I walk by.

 Another part of the apple-themed table scape with local wildflowers.

Another part of the apple-themed table scape with local wildflowers.

 Two-fisted drinker? Sort of, I was treated to a preview of Silvio’s red wine.

Two-fisted drinker? Sort of, I was treated to a preview of Silvio’s red wine.

Meramec Vineyards Silvio’s Red has a special story all of its own. It’s one of their signature wines and the star of their next pairing dinner scheduled for Thursday, October 11. You will find the upcoming pairing dinner menu and other events on their website.

Ok, so who knows the story behind this Silvio person?!

Charlotte

What To Pair with Vignoles Wine

 Vignoles is a fruity semi-dry wine, a good companion to summer seafood dishes.

Vignoles is a fruity semi-dry wine, a good companion to summer seafood dishes.

What to Pair with Vignoles Wine

What a delicious way to learn about local wines and what dishes to pair with them. This is my second special monthly meal during 2018 at Meramec Vineyards in St. James, Missouri. The business was recently purchased by a young couple who are putting a new spin into the local favorite winery by hosting monthly special dinners paired with one of their wines.

According to Brian Boulware, they spent this summer perfecting their white wines, including the Vignoles.

This dinner was in August, the height of a hot and humid Missouri summer. The decor was tropical with gilded pineapples and palm trees, a nod to our hot tropical weather and the fruity flavors in the wine.

To kick off the evening, we had steamed muscles in a scrumptious tomato and garlic sauce. My friends and I asked for extra bread so we could enjoy more of that delicious sauce. As one of my dining companions said, there is no such thing as too much garlic.

 The first course was steamed muscles in a scrumptious tomato and garlic sauce.

The first course was steamed muscles in a scrumptious tomato and garlic sauce.

The second course was a refreshing spinach and strawberry salad topped by caramelized pecans.

By this point we were all speculating about what was in the water. There was a distinctive extra taste but not one of us could put a name to the special flavor.

 Caramelized pecans topped the spinach and strawberry salad, so light and refreshing.

Caramelized pecans topped the spinach and strawberry salad, so light and refreshing.

For the main course, spicy shrimp in a tomato sauce over zucchini noodles. I love shrimp but this dish was a little too spicy for my taste.

I took half of it home and had it for lunch the next day. By then the spices had settled down and it was just right.

 A most generous plate of spicy shrimp on zuchini noodles, enough for a second day lunch meal.

A most generous plate of spicy shrimp on zuchini noodles, enough for a second day lunch meal.

For desert, one of my all-time favorites, crème brûlée with a lovely strawberry carved as a flower and other edible flowers as garnish.

Having tried crème brûlée at various locations around the country, this is a tough desert to get all of the elements right. The custard is usually either too heavy or the caramelized sugar is too thick.

France, England, and Spain all claim to be the country where crème brûlée had its origin. The first printed recipe for a dessert called crème brûlée is from the 1691 edition of the French cookbook Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois by Francois Massialot, a cook at the Palace of Versailles.

In England, this desert is called "burnt cream." I vaguely remember a similar dish from Brazil. Whatever one calls it, this version was just right!

 A lovely strawberry carved into a rose shape on top of the lightest creme brulee.

A lovely strawberry carved into a rose shape on top of the lightest creme brulee.

I have to confess, I have tried a couple of times since this dinner to carve strawberries into roses. Luckily I eat the samples along the way and there is going to have to be a lot more practice before I have anything to show for it!

And what was in the water? It was lemon lime, cucumber and basil giving the ice water a delicious summer note. Reminded me of the spearmint water I like to make in summer.

I bought a bottle of Meramec Vineyards Vignoles to enjoy at home. I will get it quite cold before pouring a glass when I make a salad out of my own garden. It will be a few weeks before I plan this meal but I am already looking forward to it!

Charlotte

Dinner's Ready!

 Oh, my, did this sign bring back memories but I'm not telling!

Oh, my, did this sign bring back memories but I'm not telling!

Dinner's Ready!

Did your family have any traditions when you were growing up about dinner?

We did. Whoever was home first set the table. Whoever was home last did the dishes, the one next to home last dried. We had a dishwasher but Mom liked having the kitchen clean after dinner so it was our job to get everything clean and put away before the lights were turned off.

There was no TV in the dining room - can you even imagine? We would have conversations about what happened in our day, what might happen tomorrow, and over the weekend. There were no cell phones on the table, and if the phone rang, no one answered. We were having dinner and the phone was not allowed to interrupt the time we set aside to be together.

After the table was set, we were all expected to stay close so that when Mom said "dinner was ready," everyone would settle around the table for a warm meal. Nothing out of the microwave, this was a warm dish out of the oven, or from the top of the stove, cooked from a recipe out of a favorite recipe book or a favorite recipe card kept in a recipe book. If there was some sort of bread, and a vegetable dish, it would be timed so that all three were served warm at the same time, quite a feat when I think about that today, not to mention desert.

When I became a stepmom and was coordinating my own home-cooked meals, I remember taking cues from her dinners including freezing meals ahead. I never did quite get the "hang" of repeatedly following recipes but then I didn't set the kitchen on fire, either.

I will say no more.

Charlotte

 

 

 

Welcome to My Kitchen Sign

 Isn't this a fun welcome to my kitchen sign?

Isn't this a fun welcome to my kitchen sign?

Welcome to My Kitchen Sign

I have terrible handwriting so I admire people who can beautifully write with chalk on signs. That's not what caught my eye about this sign, it was the hectic daily schedule it outlined.

Cooking for me is more of a fall and winter sport. Soups are a favorite, and cookies for our local bee club. This year I will be doing some experimenting incorporating honey into some recipes but when it comes to spring and summer...well, this sign better reflects my cooking routine.

It's not so bad. I have lost 40 lbs keeping to fresh salads and fruits, not eating after 6 p.m. and sticking to cooked chicken, salmon and turkey. I also try to button up my kitchen early in the evening so I am not tempted to eat later in the evening. All except for my hot cup of water with lemon.

Sometimes I skip the fresh lemon. Must be a Friday.

Charlotte

Spoon Rest Gift

 This sweet spoon rest was a gift from a gardening friend because she said it reminded her of me.

This sweet spoon rest was a gift from a gardening friend because she said it reminded her of me.

Spoon Rest Gift

A gardening friend shared this little bag with something she said had my name on it. It's interesting to see how others see us so I opened the bag with a smile, I love surprises!

Inside was this charming spoon rest, purchased from a nearby family-style restaurant gift shop in case you like it as well.

Besides the thought, I could quickly see why she thought of me when she saw it.

 Before you ask, this came from a neighborhood family style restaurant gift shop.

Before you ask, this came from a neighborhood family style restaurant gift shop.

The spoon rest is large. We had recently talked about wanting larger spoon rests for soup spoons so I suspected that conversation had inspired her to look at these often overlooked kitchen assistants.

The rest was easy. Honeybees, for my apiary Home Sweet Bees; ladybugs, the logo for Bluebird Gardens, and flowers, all hand-painted. 

 Bees, ladybugs and flowers, my favorites. What luck to have them all together!

Bees, ladybugs and flowers, my favorites. What luck to have them all together!

Sometimes when I find something perfect like this for a gift I also can't wait to present it. Thank you, Emily, I love it!

Charlotte

My First Peach This Year

 My first peach this year in a compact dwarf peach tree at Bluebird Gardens.

My first peach this year in a compact dwarf peach tree at Bluebird Gardens.

My First Peach This Year

As I was walking around my garden one morning, doing my usual visual inventory, I had to back track when I saw this peach. It was my first peach this year - maybe my only peach if the squirrels have anything to say about it - so I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see it. 

I kept the flowers on this tree frost free earlier this spring by covering it with one of my winter coats, not knowing if it would work or not. Not only was I happy to see that the extra effort worked, but I was pleased to see that the squirrels had not removed this fruit, at least not yet.

Several years ago, I had spotted a peach on another dwarf compact fruit tree and waited until the next morning to pick it. As I was heading out to get it, a squirrel hopped by, peach in mouth so I learned the hard way it's not a good thing to wait.

Usually local ripe peaches are available closer to August and September. Without any hesitation, I pulled this one off and took a bite. 

So good!

Charlotte

Ceramic Vegetable Measuring Cups

 These delightful ceramic vegetables are a set of measuring cups.

These delightful ceramic vegetables are a set of measuring cups.

Ceramic Vegetable Measuring Cups

Not to be outdone by my ceramic flower measuring spoons, soon after I found this set of ceramic vegetable measuring cups. There is something delightfully whimsical about these four, from the 1 cup artichoke to the 1/4 cup shallot, who doesn't love having vegetables around!

The measuring quantities are posted on the inside, although it's relatively easy to guess by looking at each of them.

 This ceramic shallot is a 1/4 cup measuring cup equivalent.

This ceramic shallot is a 1/4 cup measuring cup equivalent.

In doing a little online research, it appears these are vintage 1983 Avon Gallery Originals. I am missing the measuring spoon set of hot red peppers and the hanging rack that was part of the original set.

I will add that to my list of things to look for the next time I visit antique malls, nothing like a little treasure hunt or two to focus a window-shopping trip.

Charlotte

Ceramic Flower Measuring Spoons

Ceramic flower measuring spoons hanging in my kitchen.

Ceramic Flower Measuring Spoons

Aren't these fun?

I found them at - what else - a local thrift shop. They are ceramic; the purple pansy is the smallest measuring 1/4 teaspoon, to the largest, a red poppy measuring one tablespoon. 

Like most good non-precise cooks, I don't usually use measuring spoons. My idea of measuring is several guessing shakes, a few pinches or a couple of dabs. One year my mother did give me one of those sets of plastic measuring spoons that takes up space in a drawer but I can't remember the last time I used them.

Until I found these. 

They are currently hanging from the side of a cabinet where I can see them. When I have a recipe that requires several measurements, I take them down and use them, more for the fun of it than for the measuring precision. I am sure it helps to increase the chance the dish will not only come out edible but can also be more easily replicated, something my mother would have appreciated. She never ceased to ask about a dish she liked only to find out I couldn't give her the recipe because I had just thrown it together earlier that evening and couldn't replicate it even when I tried. A number of times.

Doing a little research online, I didn't find this set but I found a similar one, featuring all red flowers, made in England. That makes sense since even the smallest British homes have their postage stamp gardens carefully planted with fresh herbs and cutting flowers.

Mom taught me to collect what I like. It's easy to get caught up in trying to invest in collectibles but something is only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay. Life is complicated enough as it is so I simplify by  picking up things I like, and then use them.

If you want to get someone on the right path cooking, a good basic recipe book like the American Cooking Illustrated Encyclopedia is a good start. But so is a set of measuring spoons that speaks to them. Even if they don't use them, they will have something they can hang as home decor on their kitchen walls as a fun reminder of you.

Charlotte

 

Cat Fishing Tea Infuser

 Isn't this adorable? It is a gift from a dear friend who has a cat named after her.

Isn't this adorable? It is a gift from a dear friend who has a cat named after her.

Cat Fishing Tea Infuser

I had a late Christmas with a dear friend in January. She's dear enough that my 19-year old cat is named after her. Although she is allergic to cats, this friend loves to visit and check up on her name sake and Margaret, the cat, seems to know they have a special bond.

So it's no surprise that one of my gifts this year starred a white cat with a pink nose,  this darling cat fishing tea infuser.

 So the Meow Tea Cup infuser features a fish tea infuser that holds the loose tea.

So the Meow Tea Cup infuser features a fish tea infuser that holds the loose tea.

Tea infusers are used to brew loose tea leaves. They are also called tea balls and tea eggs. There are a number of different tea infusers on the market that, over the years, I have also used to add herbs to soups.

I have a couple tea infusers that I use with my dried herbs when I make tea but this one is the highest on the adorable meter.

First I should tell you that one of my cat's favorite games is to chase a fishing line on a fishing pole with a catnip toy at the end. It's a great way to practice my casting and keep my cats exercised.

I don't recommend casting this fish tea infuser but it reminds me of those cat fishing games my little feline friends like so much.

 Here's the tea infuser taking a dive into a cup of hot water.

Here's the tea infuser taking a dive into a cup of hot water.

Once filled, the fish tea infuser goes into my cup of hot water, supervised by a little white cat holding on to the edge of the cup.

 And the little white cat holds on to the tea infuser chain until it's ready to be retrieved.

And the little white cat holds on to the tea infuser chain until it's ready to be retrieved.

So much like the spirit of my cat Margaret, who also takes her supervision duties seriously and infrequently leaves me to my own devices. Not that she is a lot of help but she does think my days go better if she's close by. And they do.

I really like this gift to add to my breaks with Margaret the cat in my lap. Now I have yet another reason to slow down and enjoy the day.

Thank you, Margaret!

Charlotte

Snowman on Cinnamon Holiday Winter Decoration

 Snowman holiday winter decoration features a 4-inch fleece snowman on cinnamon stick.s

Snowman holiday winter decoration features a 4-inch fleece snowman on cinnamon stick.s

Snowman on Cinnamon Holiday Winter Decoration

Ever since a former colleague told me she keeps all of her holiday snowmen up until spring, I have a different perspective on what used to be only Christmas decor in my house. I was thinking about that shift when I came across this charming little fabric snowman sitting on a bed of cinnamon sticks and moss. 

Someone at one time must have used him as a Christmas ornament because a Christmas ornament hook was strung through his neck scarf but the cinnamon sticks easily make him stand up.

Can't you just see a little series of snowmen doing a variety of different things?

 Cinnamon sticks and gardening moss give this snowman a nice finishing touch.

Cinnamon sticks and gardening moss give this snowman a nice finishing touch.

And after a little stint hanging out in a tree, this little winter character can get a second wind on a mantle or a side table, still easily sitting on a bed of cinnamon sticks. A delicious side benefit, those cinnamon sticks smell nice, too!

 Easy to make and the cinnamon sticks make the snowman self-standing.

Easy to make and the cinnamon sticks make the snowman self-standing.

If you want to make some, here is how the bottom looks. Just anchor the snowman with cinnamon sticks on either side and glue with a glue stick.

You bet I am thinking about making some of these for next year!

Charlotte

One of My Favorite Foods to Grow

 Bluebird Gardens pears not quite ready for picking.

Bluebird Gardens pears not quite ready for picking.

One of My Favorite Foods To Grow

If there is a favorite food I like to grow, it is bartlett pears. Not that I have been terribly successful.

I planted a semi-dwarf Stark Brother's tree in 1983 next to my driveway. The thought was once the tree was bearing fruit, I could sit on my deck and pick a pear off a nearby branch. No one said I had to expend a lot of energy to do so.

I used to dream about picking those pears but over the years, I almost forgot I even had the tree. After three decades of not blooming, or giving fruit, I had given up on ever having pears. 

In 2010, the tree had its first blooms, courtesy of wasps that had taken up residence in some of my birdhouses.

Since then, I have had pears every other year. I could have made jam but I enjoy them as they are, sometimes cut into a salad or as a desert fruit. If they are not quite ripe, I put them in a brown bag with an apple for a couple of days until they are soft to the touch.

Summers with record hot temperatures drive squirrels to eat the pears still green so this year I won't be picking any. There is always next year!

Charlotte

Delicious Christmas Tree

 My Christmas tree story this year includes fruits, cats, birds and Mr. Santa Mouse ornaments.

My Christmas tree story this year includes fruits, cats, birds and Mr. Santa Mouse ornaments.

Delicious Christmas Tree

When visiting friends and relatives, I enjoy looking at their Christmas tree and matching their holiday traditions to their personalities. Some have very formal Christmas trees, others have the more old-fashioned decor with favorite ornaments on their trees. Regardless of whether it's a real or artificial Christmas Tree, the best part are the stories that go with them.

Since this is my foray into having something more than a miniature artificial tree, it was telling that once I had ornaments I had collected over the years on my small artificial tree, there was a definite food theme.

 My 5-foot artificial Christmas tree now is covered in food-related ornaments.

My 5-foot artificial Christmas tree now is covered in food-related ornaments.

Barlett pears, or any other kind of pears, are one of my all-time favorite fruits. I have a semi-dwarf pear tree right off my driveway that keeps me nicely supplied. These gold-toned pear ornaments were this year's addition, a 50 cent each find at a local thrift store. Perfect to add to the delicious story my Christmas tree was already telling!

 Beaded apples were purchased more than two decades ago at a home decor store sale.

Beaded apples were purchased more than two decades ago at a home decor store sale.

The pears joined my beaded apple ornaments, purchased more than 20 years ago at a home decor store sale. I needed to decorate a Christmas tree display for a local antique store outlet. I liked their added texture from the beading and, when I don't have my glasses on, I can almost imagine them as giant raspberries, another favorite food of mine.

Most of the beaded apples were sold with another decorated tree; these were the left-overs.

 Fake cherry garland adds a nice pop of red in my Christmas tree.

Fake cherry garland adds a nice pop of red in my Christmas tree.

My little compact cherry trees haven't provided me any fruit yet but I am still hopeful my bees will help with pollination and get them going. In the meantime, this little red garland is a tribute to their presence in my garden.

The artificial cherry garland also reminds me of the year I decided to decorate an outside cedar with popcorn garland. After getting my stepchildren to help with popcorn sampling, we had a nice handmade garland to wrap around the little cedar.

The next morning, I looked out the window at the cedar tree just in time to see my wild turkeys carrying off the popcorn garland!

 Fabric strawberry pincushions add a touch of family heritage to my Christmas tree.

Fabric strawberry pincushions add a touch of family heritage to my Christmas tree.

As I was decorating, I remembered I had some fabric strawberries I could add. They were sold as pincushions but I thought they would make charming Christmas tree decorations. Since our family on my father's side were Hungarian strawberry farmers, the strawberries add a dash of heritage to the Christmas tree.

I carefully considered whether those fabric strawberry ornaments would be too tempting to may cats and decided to add them anyway. They are at the top, where little paws can't easily get to them.

I also added my little collection of gift cat ornaments from former office colleagues and a few white mushroom birds picked up for 10 cents at another thrift store. I have a family of doves that winter over in my garden, the white ones in the tree remind me of their presence. There are also several fabric bird ornaments made out of old quilts, those have been collected individually over the years.

And another old friend is Santa Mouse, who has sat on top of my  Christmas trees for many years. He's venturing a little lower this year because I have a flying angel chasing a bee at the top, a nod to my new passion with beekeeping.

Yes, I also wonder how long it will take before the cats get Mr. Santa Mouse out of the tree!

Charlotte

Pie Elves

 Options to order pre-made pies from Rolla Technical Institute's Culinary Arts Class.

Options to order pre-made pies from Rolla Technical Institute's Culinary Arts Class.

Pie Elves

How I wish this class had been around when I would cook big Thanksgiving dinners!

Our local technical institute has a culinary class offering pre-made pies, from apple crumb and cherry crumb to pumpkin and pecan. I love making pies, especially from traditional recipes, but there were times when it would have been nice to have - well, pie elves, helping out.

We grew up making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, rare leftovers a favorite day after breakfast with a cold glass of milk.

Pecan pies were added after I got married, a favorite of family members who were proud of their secret recipe.

These days I like to bake just the pumpkin custard for dessert using skim milk and doubling up on spices, the pie crust left for a discussion topic on how best to make it flaky.

On second thought, I may have to splurge for one of these pies, all I have to do is pick them up!

Charlotte

 

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

 Sugar cookies are great to celebrate all sorts of holidays besides Christmas, like Thanksgiving!

Sugar cookies are great to celebrate all sorts of holidays besides Christmas, like Thanksgiving!

 

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

I don't know about you but I used to think of traditional sugar cookies only for Christmas. Even with a healthy collection of cookie cutters, I tended to dust off that recipe around early December and make batches as gifts for people who had made our lives extra special earlier in the year.

When my office needed cookies for St. Patrick's Day, celebrated in March, I started to venture out past December and now, sugar cookies are a regular option when wanting to mark a special occasion, including Halloween.

Having a nice collection of food dyes and cookie decorating supplies makes the impulse easier. Some of the decorations don't have to be specifically cookie decor, miniature chocolate chips come in handy for a number of reasons.

So quick and easy, and a lot of fun, too!

Charlotte

 

Bartlett Pear Gifts

 A friend has a neighbor with an old Bartlett pear tree, notice all of the pears are at the top??

A friend has a neighbor with an old Bartlett pear tree, notice all of the pears are at the top??

Bartlett Pear Gifts

When I used to dream about adding fruit trees to my garden, having a pear tree was top of the list.  Now I do have a semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree that's several decades old and just recently has started to provide fruit. This year, my Bartlett pear tree gave me only one pear  but that doesn't mean I won't have fresh pears this year.

A friend with a neighbor with a traditional Bartlett pear tree invited me over to pick pears and I was not going to turn down the opportunity.

The first thing we notices was that the remaining pears were out of reach at the top of the tree. My friend said you would think wind would knock over those pears. Not to be daunted, we started to pick through pears already on the ground.

Contrary to popular belief, those pears on the ground are fine, even with a little damaged corner. These pears are grown without any pesticides so there may be a few little spots that need to be cut off. Use a knife, clear out the area and enjoy.

Also don't be afraid to pick up more than you can use, pears make wonderful gifts.

Gift Basket of Pears

Once I had my stash, I stopped by a local thrift store and picked up a basket and two napkins to use as a basket liner. Once the pears are gone, the napkins can be re-used when setting a table for meals. I selected a variety of pears, from ready to eat to still a little green, and dropped the basket off with a friend who recently had surgery.

He was thrilled, the first thing he said was "oh, good, something soft I can eat."

 Locally-grown pears in a napkin-lined gift basket ready to be delivered.

Locally-grown pears in a napkin-lined gift basket ready to be delivered.

 A variety of pears, some ready to eat, others still green, are a good variety.

A variety of pears, some ready to eat, others still green, are a good variety.

For those still green pears, you could add a little brown bag with instructions to add a pear and an apple. The apple will give off a gas that will help ripen the pear.

So glad I kept a few for myself as well, fresh pears are wonderful just as they are!

Charlotte

My One BIG Pear

My one Bartlett pear in 2016 from my pear tree at Bluebird Gardens.

My One BIG Pear

Once again, my 35-year old Stark Brother's Bartlett pear tree has given me a delicious token of what it is capable of growing.

Every other year, this semi-dwarf fruit tree gives me a pear. Just one. A beautiful, large fruit, enticing me to be patient and to dream of what I will get next year.

Long History

This tree was planted in 1983 close to my house deck. The idea was that one could walk up to the deck railing and pick one of my favorite fruits and eat it right there. Fast forward to 2010, when I frankly had forgotten about the tree because it didn't bloom for all of those years.

In 2010, wasps covered the white spring blooms in pollen, resulting in more than 250 fruit that fall. It was so exciting, I shipped fruit to family and friends and shared locally and still had fruit ripening in my garage well into winter.

The next year, the tree gave me only a handful of pears.

In 2012, the summer drought forced wildlife to eat the green pears as a food source. 

The following year, once again the tree gave me one very large pear.

In 2014, I had to beat my resident squirrels to the bounty but there was enough to share. Last year, I got one pear again, which meant this year should have been a year of bounty.

In 2016, we had another summer drought period with record hot temperatures in July and August. The tree was well-pollinated this spring by my bees and wasps but wildlife, once again, turned to the green fruit for a food source during the drought.

How to Ripen a Pear

This one pear is now in a small brown bag with an apple so it can ripen for a special treat. I check it every day or so, giving some thought about how I will enjoy it. There are some old-fashioned recipes on preparing pears, but having only one seems a bit of overkill.

My brother David loves poached pears. I do as well but not sure I won't just enjoy this special one fresh once it ripens.

Now the big question is, what will I get next year - more pears or another promise of one?

Charlotte

Pomegranate Babies

 My pomegranate bush in bloom with lovely orange flowers that remind me of fuchsias.

My pomegranate bush in bloom with lovely orange flowers that remind me of fuchsias.

Pomegranate Babies

I love pomegranates; so did my mother. She grew up in California, one of the places worldwide where the weather is conducive to growing pomegranates.

Pomegranates originated in Iran and have been cultivated for centuries in northern India and the Mediterranean. They are deciduous shrubs or small trees, growing between 16-25 feet tall. Good thing I have tall ceilings in my den!

I picked up a tiny pomegranate bush mid-spring, knowing I would have to make room for it inside over winter. I didn't know how beautiful the flowers are; they remind me of orange fuchsia blooms. 

At the beginning of September 2016, I found little pomegranate babies on one side of the bush.

 Pomegranates are growing on my potted pomegranate bush. I removed the one in the middle.

Pomegranates are growing on my potted pomegranate bush. I removed the one in the middle.

I removed the middle one to give the two pomegranates on each side room to grow. Will be interesting to see how big they will get.

 Here's the potted pomegranate bush, about 3 feet tall not counting the pot.

Here's the potted pomegranate bush, about 3 feet tall not counting the pot.

I cruised through several cookbooks, including the White House Cookbook, but didn't find many recipes that call for pomegranates.

North America, the pomegranate fruit is typically in season September through February. I use pomegranates in salads and as a fresh fruit desert.

How do you use pomegranates in your meals?

Charlotte

 

 

Reminder Bracelet

 Whenever I am in the middle of doing something I need to remember, I pop on this bracelet.

Whenever I am in the middle of doing something I need to remember, I pop on this bracelet.

Reminder Bracelet

I don't know about you but cooking for me can be dangerous. Ever since I left a pot of sugar water for hummingbird food on the stove and "stepped outside" and a "few minutes" later had a fire department engine in my driveway, I have a rule: if I have something on the stove, I am not allowed out of the kitchen.

Well, I at least don't allow myself to go outside, it's too easy to get distracted and get involved in doing something that passes the time much too quickly. I can also get distracted inside the house, especially when I'm surfing recipe books. After several tries, I have a new system: whenever I have something on the stove, I slip on this elastic bracelet of gold-tone balls.

The bracelet is big enough to periodically get in the way to remind me I have something cooking, and easy enough to slip on and off when I go through several cooking sessions in one day. That's usually in fall and winter, I tend not to cook so much in summer. Unless it's food for bees, or hummingbirds. 

Which reminds me, I need to bake another batch of cookies for the fire department. This time, I will deliver the cookies, no need for them to stop by and pick them up!

Have you ever left something cooking on the stove too long?

Charlotte